St. Louis welcomes first of many Afghan refugee families |

2022-07-26 14:03:55 By : Ms. Grace Hu

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ST. LOUIS — St. Louis welcomed the first in a new wave of refugees from Afghanistan. A family touched down at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Monday.

City leaders say the Azimi family are the first of many refugee families they hope to welcome to the area. This all goes back to one effort, known as the Afghan Rescue Project, spearheaded by former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.

"They know St. Louis is their home even though they've never been there," Kander said.

Mayor Tishaura Jones joined the International Institute and the Afghan Rescue Project to help place this family in its new home.

"Our city stands ready to welcome them with open arms and open hearts," Jones said.

The Azimis were just one of many families stranded in Albania after escaping the Taliban in Afghanistan. There were lots of hugs and smiles upon their arrival, but that doesn't scratch the surface of what the family went through to get here.

"He says, "I don't know anybody in St. Louis besides a couple of folks, but what he has head from the Internet and what he has seen is that St. Louis has a welcoming culture for the refugees, and that he wants to be a part of it," said the Azimi family translator.

With the help of Mayor Jones and several others in the St. Louis community, hope for a new life was tangible.

"Every Afghan family that became involved in this is the direct result of the relationship of an American who served there with them," Kander said.

In 2021, Kander wanted to get several Afghan allies on a plane out of Afghanistan, including the Azimi's.

“These Afghan allies had been translators, soldiers, government officials, journalists and human rights activists. All of them were in danger of Taliban reprisal," Kander said.

Kander said they staged a fake wedding party in Afghanistan to get all refugees in one spot and take off to Albania. The Azimi family called him after this success, saying: "'Jason, I'm on an airplane trying to take off. The entire wedding party is here, you and your friends are the real Mission Impossible team and you have saved us all.'"

It was a long day, a long year, and a long war for the Azimi family. 

"He says he is very hopeful that the rest of the remaining Afghans who are in Albania will be able to come to St. Louis as well," said the family translator.

One thing made overwhelmingly clear Monday was that they have a home in St. Louis.

They're working closely with several advocates in St. Louis to make their resettlement smooth, and they said they hope the rest of the members of the "fake wedding party" can make it from Albania to America, and St. Louis, too.

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